Hardware Humor Tampa Bay What I’m Up To

I only remember the joke version of “PCMCIA” was short for

I attended the swap meet held by the Neon Temple, Tampa Bay’s security guild, where attendees were selling, swapping, or simply giving away old tech gear and books they no longer needed.

That’s where I found and took a photo of the relic above: a PCMCIA card (a name that got shortened to “PC Card”), which used to be a way of adding peripherals to laptops. The card above was for a 56K modem, which means that it was likely used to download Backstreet Boys songs using Napster.

“What did they call those things before they shortened the name to ‘PC Card’?” someone behind me asked.

PCMCIA,” someone else replied. “Can’t remember what that was short for.”

I have a great memory for trivia, and even I couldn’t remember. I confessed: “I only remember the joke that it was short for ‘People Can’t Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms’.”


Additional notes for “Beyond the Circuit: The Everlasting Role of Hardware Skills”

Here are some follow-up notes for Computer Coach’s LinkedIn audio event, Beyond the Circuit: The Everlasting Role of Hardware Skills, which took place on Friday, March 8, 2024.

LED throwies

This is one of the simplest projects you can make, and you can learn how to make them at

Sites for learning electronics

Starting Electronics is an excellent site for getting into electronics. It has tutorials, projects, and articles on electronics, embedded systems, microcontrollers, Arduino, Raspberry PI, tools, and related topics.

Reddit has a couple of good subreddits for people who want to get into electronics:

Books for learning electronics

Make: Electronics, 3rd Edition is a great guide for getting started. Here’s the link to buy the PDF edition, and here’s the link to buy the print version.

Where to get electronics and electronics kits

Beginner-friendly electronics kits

“Internet of Things” computers and devices

Online electronic components shopping for the more hardcore

Building your own PC

Hardware Meetups Tampa Bay What I’m Up To

Join my online chat about hardware skills THIS FRIDAY!

On Friday at 10 a.m. EST, join me and Computer Coach for an online session titled Beyond the Circuit: The Everlasting Role of Hardware Skills! 

Software may be eating the world, but software needs hardware to run! In this talk, I’ll talk about the value of knowing how hardware works, as well as how to get started on building your hardware skills, from basic soldering, to how chips work, to playing around with “Internet of Things” devices like Arduinos and Raspberry Pis. Find out more and register here.

Games Hardware Programming

My new PyGamer device

The items from the PyGamer Starter Kit, fresh from the box, laid out: carrying case, speaker, PyGamer, acrylic enclosure kit, rechargeable battery, and button caps.
The PyGamer Starter Kit: Carrying case, speaker, PyGamer unit, acrylic enclosure kit, rechargeable battery, and button caps.
Founded in 2005, Adafruit Industries is a company that produces open-source hardware and electronics kits for hobbyists.

I’m now the proud owner of an Adafruit PyGamer game console! It’s an open-source handheld game player that you can program using MakeCode Arcade, CircuitPython, or Arduino.

I’d been meaning to get one for some time. There was a deal on them last weekend, so I placed an order for the PyGamer Starter Kit, which included all the goodies pictured above.

The PyGamer is a cute little unit that doesn’t take up very much space, as the photo below (shown beside a U.S. dollar bill and quarter for scale) shows:

Here’s a close-up photo of the front of the circuit board. That’s an analog joystick on the left, the screen in the middle, the “A” and “B” buttons on the right, and the “Select” and “Start” buttons along the bottom, with a row of five LED lights between them:

Want to know more about processors? Check out my recent presentation from November’s Tampa Devs meetup, How Computers Work “Under the Hood.”

Here’s the back of the circuit board. The most prominent features are the processor (the square thing in the center of the board), the two sockets to either side of the processor, which allow you to connect the unit to FeatherWing daughterboards for all sorts of hardware projects, and the three STEMMA connectors at the bottom, which make it easy to connect the unit to all sorts of sensors and devices:

The Starter Kit comes with pre-cut acrylic pieces that form a protective shell for the unit, plastic caps for the buttons, a speaker for game sounds, a rechargeable battery, and a carrying case. Here’s what the PyGamer looks like with the enclosure assembled:

What are its specs?

At the heart of the PyGamer is the ATSAMD51, a microcontroller built on the ARM Cortex M4 processor, which is used as the basis for a lot of chips for small devices or embedded controllers. Released in 2018, the ATSAMD51 is a 32-bit chip running at 120 MHz with 512K Flash memory and 192K of RAM. It’s not going to compete with a Raspberry Pi, but it’s more than enough for handheld retro-gaming.

The PyGamer board housing the processor provides these goodies:

  • An additional 8 MB of Flash memory for files, which is meant for game assets: images, sounds, fonts, and other data.
  • A MicroSD card slot for even more Flash memory.
  • A backlit 160 by 128-pixel color TFT display.
  • An analog thumb joystick, a scaled-down version of the ones you’ll find on PlayStation and Xbox controllers.
  • 4 buttons — the classic “A,” “B,” “Start,” and “Select.”
  • 5 Neopixel LEDs, whose colors can be individually controlled. These can be used for additional feedback, such as showing the user how many “lives” they have.
  • A 3-axis accelerometer for sensing motion.
  • A light sensor.
  • A headphone jack as well as a speaker driver. The PyGamer Starter Kit includes a speaker that plugs into the driver for headphone-free sound.

How do you program it?

The easiest way to program it is via MakeCode Arcade, a friendly programming tool that allows you to create games using drag-and-drop blocks like Scratch. It also supports game programming in JavaScript or Python with its game libraries.

Want to get a little more hardcore with the programming? It’s also programmable in CircuitPython, a version of Python made specifically for microcontroller boards.

Want to get even more hardcore? You can also program it in Arduino’s programming language, which is a mutant of C++.

Why did I get this thing?

For fun, of course — but also for sharpening my programming and hardware skills while having fun! In today’s world of laptops, virtual machines, and a zillion abstractions that distance programmers from their systems’ “bare metal,” having a low-level understanding of computers is an increasingly rare skill. As always, I’m trying to set myself apart.

I’ll also use it in an upcoming video series on programming — watch this space in 2024 for more!

Hardware Meetups Presentations Programming What I’m Up To

Scenes (and full video!) from my “How Computers Work Under the Hood” presentation

Image preview

Back in June, I posed a question on this blog: Would you like to know how computers REALLY work “under the hood?” Tampa Devs, a very active nonprofit with a mission to support the local developer community though this would be a good presentation topic. On Wednesday, I gave that presentation to this crowd:

I started by telling the attendees that while knowing about microprocessors and assembly language isn’t absolutely necessary to function in a lot of developer and tech jobs today, there’s value in that knowledge:

Photo by Richard Schmid.

I talked about transistors…

…made note of the fact that it was the 52nd birthday of the commercial microprocessor…

…introduced the 6502…

…got deeper into its inner workings…

…and then we dove into 6502 assembly language programming!

Tampa Devs recorded the entire thing, and you can watch it here:

All the material from the presentation is available online:

My thanks to:

  • Tampa Devs for inviting me to speak at their meetup — it’s always an honor and a pleasure to work with a group that contributes so much to the Tampa Bay tech scene!
  • Kforce for providing the venue, which I like to say has “the comfiest meetup chairs in Tampa Bay.”
  • Civo for sponsoring the pizza, sodas, and water for the attendees, and taking such an interest in supporting the Tampa Bay tech scene.
Hardware Humor

I have to respect this seller’s title inflation

I saw this while perusing Facebook Marketplace for odd items (okay, I’ll admit it: accordions). While calling an old Casio calculator a “vintage computer” is title inflation, it’s also technically correct.

In fact, the seller could’ve gone a little farther by calling attention to its solar cell with phrases like “renewable energy-driven” or “green processing.”

Hardware Mobile Programming What I’m Up To

New gear and a screen protector that might be over-promising

Tap to view at full size.

Pictured above is the back of the packaging for Samcorn’s 9H tempered glass screen protector for smartphones. I chuckled at the “Protection of God” sticker that seals the box — these screen protectors are good, but they’re not that good.

Tap to view at full size.

Of more interest to me is what they’re protecting: a Google Pixel 7 phone with 128GB storage, pictured above. It’s not the newest Pixel anymore, but its specs are pretty good (its benchmark scores are 813,114 for AnTuTu v9: 813114, 3288 for GeekBench v5.1, and 59fps for GFXBench). I picked up a refurbished model for a little over $300. If you can find one at this price, it’s one of the best “bangs for the buck” in smartphones right now.

I’ve got a whole lot of mobile development articles coming up — for both here and the Auth0 Developer Blog — and having a nice Android unit will come in handy.